Jun 06

Getting the news

The hallmark of a historic event is that people remember where they were when they first heard about it. I don’t know whether the death of former President Ronald Reagan will be remembered in those terms, but I will record here that I was in the Green Room at Raleigh Little Theatre. Tech Week for Smokey Joe’s Cafe began today. That’s the week of dress rehearsals (with light and sound cues, scenery and props) that precedes opening night. It’s traditional for the cast to provide dinner for the crew on the first night of Tech Week, so it was during Tech Dinner that I heard the news of Reagan’s passing from the other techies sitting at my table.
I remember where I was when President Reagan almost died in 1981. On March 30, 1981, I was in my room at the Bates West dormitory at the University of South Carolina. I don’t recall exactly how I first got the news, but I remember that within an hour or two of the shooting, The State published an extra edition reporting all of the information that was available. The newspaper carrier who normally delivered the paper to Bates West subscribers came through the dorm knocking on doors and offering the extra for sale. I bought a copy, and I still have it somewhere. It was the only extra edition of a newspaper I had ever seen.
And I’ve never seen another one. It’s hard to imagine a newspaper rushing out a special edition today. What would be the point? By the time they can print it and deliver it to customers, those people will already have seen the same information on CNN, or read it on any of a hundred news sites on the Web.
Of course, the same thing is true of the regular daily edition of any newspaper. By the time it reaches your front porch, it’s already out of date. That’s one of the reasons I don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper anymore.

Jun 04

Coming of age

When does a child become an adult? Our society doesn’t have a simple answer to that question. We confer greater freedom and responsibility on our adolescents gradually, in bits and pieces, as they pass through their teens. Instead of a single rite of passage, we have lots of them at differing ages, from bar/bat mitzvah (age 12 for girls, 13 for boys) to the ability to buy alcoholic beverages (age 21). As a result, it’s not possible to meaningfully say exactly when your children grow up. But when your family experiences several of these events in the space of a week, you can no longer deny that something momentous is going on.
My family has just experienced such a week:

  • On May 26, Ben (our 15-year-old) passed a written test and obtained his Limited Learning Permit. He can now legally drive a car with adult supervision.
  • On the 29th, his sister Ruth turned 18.
  • The morning of May 30, we attended Ben’s confirmation at Christ the King Lutheran Church.
  • That same evening, Ruth graduated from high school.
  • On June 2, Ruth obtained her Driver License. And she registered to vote.

All of these were major milestones. But the one that really got to me was something unscheduled and unexpected. Ruth enjoys baking, and on the evening of June 2, she felt the urge to make a batch of cookies. But when she started to gather the ingredients, she discovered that we didn’t have enough eggs. Marie suggested that Ruth walk to the nearby Food Lion (it’s only five minutes away by foot) and buy some. Ruth grinned and said, “No, I’ll drive. Dad, can I borrow your car?” I nodded, and she picked up her purse, strolled out the door, and drove to the grocery store. Alone.

Jun 03

Falling down

A couple of weeks ago, I promised to explain how the Nazis caused my almost total lack of blogging in late April and early May. Here’s the first part of that explanation.
In the spring of 1942, the Third Reich began implementing the “Final Solution” to exterminate European Jews. As a result, Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in a secret annex in Amsterdam. Anne chronicled the experience in her diary, which was saved by one of the family’s helpers after the Franks were discovered and sent to concentration camps. Although Anne didn’t survive the war, her diary was published and became one of the most widely read books in the world.
A play based on The Diary of Anne Frank opened on Broadway in 1955. The “Definitive Edition” of the diary was published in 1995, and a new stage adaptation premiered on Broadway two years later. This play came to Raleigh Little Theatre in the spring of 2004, running from April 9 to April 25. I wasn’t a part of the cast or crew of Anne Frank, but Ben and I helped build the set, which was rather large and elaborate. Striking this set would not be easy, and as the end of the run approached, Roger (the RLT technical director) sent an e-mail message to the volunteers’ mailing list, asking for as many people as possible to help on Sunday, April 25.
I went, of course; my whole family did. While Ruth and Marie helped to strike costumes and props, Ben and I joined the swarm of volunteers attacking the set. An hour or so later, he and I were working to together to remove some windows from the rear wall of the set so that they could be stored and reused in future plays. Ben was inside the set, removing the screws that held the windows in place; I was behind the set’s back wall, waiting to take hold of each window and lower it to the deck (the floor of the stage). The set’s floor was raised several feet above the deck, so I was standing on a bench placed against the rear wall in order to reach the windows.
As the second window popped out of its frame, I took hold of its sides and began to lower it. At that moment, the bench I was standing on tipped over backwards, and I fell to the deck, landing awkwardly on my right foot — which buckled, twisting inwards. As my full weight came down on that foot, my ankle bent sideways. I screamed in pain and collapsed in a heap on the deck.
Several other volunteers rushed to my aid, setting the bench upright and helping me sit on it. “Are you okay?” Roger asked. “Don’t know yet,” I gasped through clenched teeth. As fellow volunteer Asher went to fetch a cold pack from the first aid kit, I removed my right shoe and sock. The initial overwhelming agony was fading, so I gingerly took my foot in both hands and tried flexing the ankle to see if it was broken. The ankle moved normally without any of the sharp pain or sickening twisting sensation of a broken bone. (I do know what a broken bone feels like.) I found that my foot could move on its own, too, so there didn’t seem to be any major damage. The initial agony had subsided, leaving me with a throbbing ache. Asher returned with the cold pack, which I applied to the ankle. The pain continued to fade.
Looking around me, I saw that the window I had been holding when I fell was lying on the deck nearby. I called Ben over and asked him to pick it up and put it with the first one we had removed earlier. It was at about this point that I realized I had scrapes on both of my forearms, one of which was actually oozing blood. The window had evidently done that by falling on me as I went down.
After about twenty minutes, the cold pack wasn’t really cold any more, and the pain in my ankle was down to a dull ache. It was time to find out whether I could walk. I stood up slowly on my left foot, gripping a nearby cart for support, and gradually put weight on my right foot. It didn’t buckle, and there was no increase in pain. Carefully, I took a step, then another. Then I walked across the stage. The ankle was sore and stiff, but it worked.
I concluded that I had dodged a bullet, put my sock and shoe back on, and rejoined the rest of the strike crew. But I knew it wasn’t a good idea for me to do any climbing, so I didn’t try to work on dismantling the set any more. Instead, I spent the next two hours collecting, sorting, and coiling light cables — a task that I could carry out while standing on the deck.
By the time I ran out of cables, the set demolition was complete and it was time for the strike dinner. Ben used antiseptic wipes to clean my scrapes, and I thanked Asher for getting the cold pack. After dinner, we went home. My ankle was now rather swollen, but otherwise still functional. I’d managed to avoid any significant injury, I thought. But I was wrong.